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Lessons Learned from a $500 Paper Napkin

By September 5, 2013January 21st, 2014No Comments

I recently learned five interesting lessons thanks to a paper napkin that ended up costing me over $500.00 dollars.

Lessons Learned From a $500 Paper Napkin

Call me cheap, but I’m not in the habit of paying more than three or four dollars for a whole package of napkins. So when this one napkin ended up costing me half a grand, I realized there had to be a lesson or two in there.

My day started just like any other Tuesday morning during the summer. As usual, I was headed for an Inner Princess team meeting and eating breakfast on the go. This particular morning, my breakfast was a little messy, so as I was driving along at about 40mph, I leaned over to the right to grab a spare napkin out of the glove compartment. I should have waited for the approaching stoplight, but made the split second decision to get it then and there.

Bad decision.

When I leaned right, Pepper (our company car) leaned right with me. Next thing I knew, I heard a *POW*, a sound no car owner wants to hear. Thankfully, I didn’t hit anything worse than the curb, so I swerved back and continued on my not-so-merry way.

And that’s when I started accumulating some unexpected credits in the college of life experience.

Lesson #1 – Learn to admit when you are wrong.

When I hopped out of the car at Panera, I immediately headed over to the passenger side to survey the damage. The bumper escaped unscathed (phew!), but my right tire had a tear in it. Gulping, I knew I had no choice but to confess my transgressions to the person who also owned half the tire, too.

All too often when leaders make mistakes, they try to cover them up. Admitting when you’ve been in the wrong isn’t easy, but it is vital if you plan to keep the trust of those working with you. Humble pie, in my case, was especially not easy because I’m known for lecturing on the merits of distraction-free driving. Ouch.

Next time you fall, don’t try to sweep it under the rug. Be open and honest with the other people affected by your mistakes. This approach is all too uncommon, in fact, when we got the car out of the shop, our mechanic mentioned to us how often he sees the opposite when people bring their cars in for repairs. But wait, I’m getting ahead of my story.

Lesson #2 – Do one thing and do it well.

If you’re going to drive, drive. Do one thing at a time and focus all your efforts on doing it well. If you try to juggle too many balls, you will wind up dropping all of them.

The more I work, the more I realize that multi-tasking is a myth thrust upon our culture. What we call multi-tasking is really called being distracted. Distractions are costly. In my case, being distracted cost me $500 dollars in car repairs. But in your organization, it can cost you far, far more.

When you are distracted, you cannot get an accurate picture of what is going on around you. You will miss the needs of your employees and the needs of your clients.

On a humorous note, I do like what Albert Einstein had to say about being distracted:

“Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves.”

Give your work the attention it deserves.

Lesson #3 – Make sure you thoroughly evaluate the damage.

I made the mistake of assuming that all I needed was a new tire, so I headed to Discount Tire and promptly plunked down $200.00 for a new wheel.

I thought that was the end of the story. Wrong.

A few weeks later, Pepper’s air conditioning bit the dust. No surprise when you take into account the summer heat. But you can imagine my surprise when I brought the car to the dealer, only to discover that I didn’t only have a broken A/C, but a cracked right axle, too. My $200.00 tire wasn’t the end of the story, rather just the beginning.

When you have a PR crisis, it’s easy to just deal with the surface issues. But unless you are extremely thorough, there will always be something you have missed. The issues you miss will always be the ones that come back to haunt you down the road.

Once you get the flames contained, take a few moments to pause and double check with your team that you’ve not missed some burning embers. Those embers will often start bigger fires if left unchecked. In my case, I was fortunate. Another issue popped up that revealed the cracked axle before it broke apart completely while we were driving the car.

Lesson #4 – Consequences are painful, but they also serve as positive reinforcement.

Our company could have covered the cost of the broken axle and tire, but I knew these expenses were ones I needed to pay. Not just because it was my fault, but because I knew that the pocketbook hurt could keep me from making the same mistake twice.

No one enjoys consequences. But you can make a point of learning from them. If your company has struggled with overspending, the memories of the months you spent cutting back and pennypinching will keep you from doing the same thing again.

Lesson #5 – Look for lessons in every life experience.

There’s a lesson to be learned from every experience in life. Don’t just blaze through life without thinking through the situations that God brings across your path. Look for the lessons . . . and purpose to remember them next time you find yourself in a similar situation.

And who knows, you might be able to share those experiences, too!

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Aaress Lawless

Aaress enjoys helping small businesses and ministries, having budget travel adventures with friends, and blogging about life lessons on Instagram.

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